“ Address: Provincialeweg 102 / 1506 MD Zaandam „
~No Great Expectations~
When I heard that work had arranged a big meeting in a hotel in Zaandam, a town to the north of Amsterdam, I can't say that my heart leapt with excitement. I'd been to Zaandam twice before and it's fair to say it hadn't impressed me much, especially the time I'd stayed in the Golden Tulip Hotel, one of the most rubbishy hotels I've ever visited that cost more than £10 a night. I asked the secretary who'd booked the hotel "Is it the one that looks like it was designed by a kid with too much Lego?" and she confirmed that indeed it was.
The good thing about Zaandam - and I'm scraping the bottom of the barrel a little - is that it's easy to get to and to subsequently get back from, if you're travelling through Amsterdam's Schiphol airport. Trains run from the airport every 30 minutes at 15 and 45 minutes past the hour for just a tad over Euro4. I could bore you with how to buy a ticket but figuring that out might just be the most exciting bit about going to Zaandam and I wouldn't want to spoil it for you.
The train takes about 20 minutes and when you arrive the big question is left or right. There are two exits out of the station so I tried the wrong one first. If I'd taken the right one, there was an arrow saying 'Inntel Hotel' - not much use if you pick the wrong one. I'd expected it to be easy because I knew I was looking for the place that looked like it was built of Lego but you can't see anything from the station. So the tip is, if it doesn't say 'Inntel Hotel' then you've gone the wrong way.
~What were they smoking?~
Stepping out of the station I was hit by a big whiff of cannabis smoke at almost exactly the same time that I spotted the Lego buildings, which seemed somehow appropriate because I was wondering what the architects must have been smoking when they designed the Inntel and its surroundings. It's all in shades of green with mock gables all over the place. It looks like the whole place was made of plastic building blocks. In 20 years time it will either have become a much celebrated iconic location or will look like something the dog brought in. I'd previously seen the hotel from a distance but I hadn't realised that quite so much of the surrounding area was done in the same bizarre style. On the plus side the hotel is REALLY close to the railway station, and if you like shops, it's surrounded by them. On the down side, it's a seriously weird place.
The first challenge was to work out how to get in. The first entrance you reach is only for the conference centre but if you take the lift, steps or escalator down, you can reach the bar and then figure out how to get to the reception where you will meet some of the unfriendly and super-slow reception staff. All the colleagues who arrived by car said they struggled to find the Q-park car park next door to the hotel.
~Classic Dutch Service~
Reception is light, bright and very modern looking but the staff are experts at trying to avoid looking at you. Several times I watched two of the three staff each trying desperately to get the other to check someone in. All seemed quite happy to take phone calls from the rooms whilst checking people in too - something that never fails to annoy me. I wouldn't have been surprised a few years back as this is not atypical in Holland but I now usually stay in a Novotel with outstanding staff and I've got used to nice hotel staff again. The only arguments I've had with reception staff have always been in Holland and I was expecting that I might get a bit more practice.
I gave my name, my passport and my credit card. The receptionist swiped the card and charged me something like 280 Euros. I asked her why that was really necessary when we had a corporate booking for 60 rooms that were surely guaranteed in writing by the company. I also asked why it was so much since the woman had told me they'd be charging 50 Euros. She then changed her story to the room rate plus 50 Euros for incidentals. Oddly when the time came to check out, it was another entirely different amount and an even higher price. Two of my colleagues are a couple and had expected to get a double room together but the secretary had forgotten and booked them one each. When one explained the situation the receptionist said, dismissively, that she didn't care and "They both have to be paid for!"
~Room for reflection~
Several of my colleagues decided to have dinner in the restaurant but it was already gone nine in the evening so I headed to my room. To call the lift you need to use your room key. My room was on the 8th floor and I was reasonably optimistic that it would be quite nice because I'd seen the website, but you can never be sure until you're actually there that they haven't photographed the one decent room in the place.
The room was long and large. The walls were painted white which was a little bleak although I have to admit our living room at home is white but only so we can hang lots of paintings on it. Without much decoration, it does seem a bit bare. A little bit of colour comes from the long browny purple curtains although you don't really need to draw them as there are light-tight roller blinds which are more effective. The double bed - a king size, I'd guess - was arranged lengthways rather than perpendicular which is quite unusual. I've only seen it done before in hotels where the rooms weren't wide enough to take the bed the other way round but this was not the case at the Inntel. The wall at the head of the bed has a large black and white historic photograph mural and at the foot of the bed is a long, narrow storage unit with a flat screen TV sitting on top. There's something very indulgent about a room which encourages you to watch telly whilst lying down.
The flooring is a grippy laminate that's slip resistant but a bit cold underfoot. I also found the room to be quite cold and the air conditioning/heating was very noisy so I turned it off. I wouldn't really want to be there if it was very hot or very cold but I got away with it at the end of September.
All of the furniture matched and was of that special black grained veneer that's always popular in Italian style magazines. It did look very smart and I didn't spot any chipping or damage. There was a long desk with a white leather desk chair and a desk lamp, a small coffee table and a 'comfy chair'. The TV at the bottom of the bed could be swivelled around and viewed from any of the chairs.
The bed was big and predictably squashy. Dutch hotel chains always have soft beds as there seems to be a national preference for such things. I don't like soft mattresses but even I slept pretty well at the Inntel although the big square pillows were not very comfortable.
The bathroom was beautiful but a bit weird with a glass panel between one end of the bath and the bedroom. I can see that this would allow more light into the bathroom and you could feasibly lie in the bath and watch the television if you cricked your neck. It was very odd although I've seen more bizarre glass bathroom arrangements before. The bath was large and there was a separate glass enclosed shower on the other side of the room. The sink unit was the same black grained wood as the rest of the furniture and had one of those nice white ceramic bowl sinks. The real weakness of the bathroom was the awful lighting that had probably been designed by someone who didn't have to shave or put on make up. I don't do either but I still like to be able to see my face when I'm cleaning my teeth. The towels were small for such an otherwise rather nice hotel and I was a bit disappointed.
The wardrobe contained a bag stand which I instantly whipped out and set up. There was a storage unit with a kettle and hot drink supplies all neatly tucked in a pretty Delft style tin. There was a room safe and a minibar with rather poor stock. I don't mind paying Euro3.75 for a Heineken but I'd prefer it was a glass bottle rather than a can.
~Food for Thought~
We ate two breakfasts and two lunches in the hotel. The restaurant is poorly laid out with the food area separated from the seating by a particularly narrow area that seems to throw people and plates of food at each other. The breakfast was pretty good - you'd not believe how bad some hotels can muck up scrambled eggs but not the Inntel - although I don't really enjoy the stress of trying to find the plates first thing in the morning. Cue me wandering round shaking my head muttering curses about which joker thought it was funny to hide them. Lunch on day one was OK but nothing special and on the second day we ate in the conference earlier where I got into a heated debate about the need for them to provide a spoon near the fish dish so that people wouldn't dip into it with the chicken spoon. Eventually they brought a slotted spoon so all you could do was pick the lumpy bits out and leave all the sauce behind.
Talking of the business centre I have to say that the meeting rooms were pretty good with lots of natural light. We were a bit squidged in and spent a lot of time climbing over furniture to get past people. There's running water going passed the windows so don't sit near them if you've got a weak bladder. The room acoustics were poor and the temperature control was a bit erratic but on balance the rooms were better than many I've been in for big meetings.
On the plus side, the rooms were good, the meeting rooms very pleasant and it's really easy to get to the hotel from the airport. On the down side, the reception staff need to go to charm school although the restaurant staff were very good. At around 150 Euros per night, I can't help thinking they might have spread the room rental costs across our bills as it would have been a bit expensive for a hotel outside Amsterdam. Normal room rates should be 20 or 30 Euros lower.